Some of the same guards who keep a watchful eye on inebriated soccer fanatics during the World Cup Finals in Russia were recently fighting clandestine wars for the Motherland in the Ukraine and Syria. Can we expect private military contractors to perform the same duties when the Finals come to North America in 2026?
Some 800 Cossacks with over a dozen different groups are working security for the matches, according to officials. A Western news agency positively identified more than a dozen of these individuals as foreign fighters who were veterans of the aforementioned campaigns. One such group, the Great Don Army, provides about 200 World Cup security guards. The Army’s leader, Svyatoslav Borisov, posted some pictures of his troops in the Ukraine in 2015. In one such photo, his men posed in front of a burned-out tank. However, Mr. Borisov insists that his men only delivered humanitarian supplies to the area. “Every person decides for himself. If he likes fighting, he fights,” Mr. Borisov cryptically remarked. As it is illegal for Russian citizens to fight overseas as mercenaries, the Kremlin also steadfastly denies any involvement in the Ukrainian or Syrian wars.
Reuters estimates that the number of confirmed foreign mercenaries-turned-security-guards would be much higher if the count included dead Cossacks.
What Contractors do
Many overseas private military contractors fill roughly the same roles as the Cossacks outside soccer stadiums in Russia. Contractors do things like verify IDs at checkpoints, man roadblocks, and escort VIPs on inspection tours. However, they usually do all these things overseas. Much like the CIA can only operate outside the United States, contractors generally only serve on foreign soil.
That being said, many contractors take a more active role in combat operations. The Michael Bay movie 13 Hours chronicled a group of Benghazi contractors in a 2012 fight against terrorists. The movie is probably not entirely realistic. Most combat veterans would attest that these operations usually involve about 90% waiting and 10% shooting.
Contractors do fight back when attacked. Some also serve as “door kickers,” especially in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Others serve as translators or specialists in electronic warfare. The risk of combat injury is obviously much higher in situations like these. It should be pointed out that watching a checkpoint may be mundane, but it is definitely not safe, especially in a place like Afghanistan.
Still other contractors do not arrive until after the shooting has stopped, at least for the most part. History has taught us that what happens in the wake of a war is often just as important as the war itself. On countless occasions, a nation has “won” the war but “lost” the peace. So, reconstruction contractors may be even more vital than combat contractors.
Some of these reconstruction contractors help build roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, utility plants, and other such infrastructure items. Until such items are in place, most refugees will not come back to a former combat zone. That absence often creates a power vacuum that evildoers are eager to exploit.
Building a bridge in Kalamazoo is not much of an effort. The company just sends the workers to the site, they do their jobs in relative safety, and they go home. Building a bridge in Kandahar is a whole different ballgame, however. Terrorists often target such projects. After all, scaring people and disrupting their daily activities is what these organizations do. So, armed contractors must protect the construction site.
This security is serious business. In fact, it is not unusual for the number of security guards to almost equal the number of construction workers.
Regardless of when and in what capacity they serve, all overseas contractors face significant injury risk. Therefore, the Defense Base Act applies to all of them equally. Eligibility is a relatively straightforward matter.
First, the injured victim must be a contractor. The contracting party need not be the DoD. It could be the State Department, CIA, or any other federal government entity. Actually, even some contractors who work for some sympathetic foreign governments may have a DBA claim. Moreover, the injured contractor need not be a U.S. citizen. For example, if an interpreter gets shot in a raid that goes sideways, that interpreter may still be eligible for DBA benefits.
Second, the injury must take place in a war zone. When some people think of war zones, they think of Omaha Beach, but the DBA definition is much broader. Any country that has at least one U.S. military installation is a “war zone” in this context. Even if that installation is just a military attache or embassy guard detail, it is sufficient for DBA purposes.
Third, there must be a relationship between the injury and the reason the contractor was in-country. Many unintentional injuries, such as falls or drownings, occur while the contractor is off-duty and participating in a seemingly unrelated activity. Similar to the above analysis, any connection will do. In one rather famous case, a contractor in Israel almost drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while he was swimming for recreation. Since he was also swimming to keep in shape for his job, the DBA applied.
Furthermore, many intentional injuries, like terrorist attacks, occur during off-duty hours. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that a contractor’s injury need not take place while the victim is on the clock. If the injury occurs in a market due to a suicide bomber, the DBA covers that injury.
For more information about DBA procedures, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel, P.A.